I’ve been a huge fan of the Deftones since I heard Adrenaline way back in junior high. I remember waiting with unbridled anticipation for the next record to come out, and being rewarded with suddenly hearing (and having my mind blown by) My Own Summer (Shove It) on the radio. As much as I loved the band though, it wasn’t until White Pony came out that I knew that this was a truly special band. It felt absolutely massive; it was so diverse, yet so unified in vision and so brilliantly written. With the exception of maybe Tool’s Ænima, it was the best example of what a good alt metal band was really capable of. The only problem was the matter of besting it; something that has made post-2000 Deftones material great, but ultimately frustrating. Their self titled album and Saturday Night Wrist were both great in their own ways, and teetered on topping White Pony, but just didn’t pull it off. The self titled had extreme dynamics that at times felt forced, and ended up feeling very uneven and disjointed, while Saturday Night Wrist employed more pop and electronic effects, but as a result lacked a bit of the punch from their earlier albums. After White Pony, it felt like the band had a real masterpiece in them, but just couldn’t get it out. Well, the waiting is over – that masterpiece has finally arrived, and its name is Diamond Eyes.
Like Saturday Night Wrist, the opening track is the lead single (Hole in the Earth and Diamond Eyes), and is also the perfect place to begin. The title track sports the same bright, uplifting chorus as Hole, but Eyes has a certain fury to it that the former was missing – the chugging verses and outro are incredibly heavy, and Chino Moreno’s vocals (both sung and screamed) feel better applied. One of the Deftones’ greatest strengths is how well Moreno is able to use his voice as an instrument, an asset that very few other vocalists can rival. For easy examples, listen to Moreno and Carpenter’s combined attack on tracks like CMND/CNTRL (“Once again! Just because I can!!”) or Rocket Skates (“Guns! Razors! Kniiiives!!” finished with an energetic “WOOO” as the icing on the cake). Then there are the tender moments, where it’s more Frank Delgado’s keyboards working with and against Moreno’s voice, like the ethereal Beauty School. Of course what really clinches the unification of all the shades of the Deftones is how well the three work together. Prince, which is strangely reminiscent of White Pony’s Rx Queen while sounding nothing like it at all, boasts an extremely powerful chorus with Carpenter’s sledgehammer riffs bouncing against Delgado’s synths, held together with Abe Cunningham’s ever progressing drumming and Sergio Vega’s (Chi Cheng’s replacement at present) unsurprisingly capable bass playing, and all topped by Moreno’s singing, gradually shifting back and forth from soulful croon to melodic roar.
Diamond Eyes is extremely consistent with this dynamic, which gives the album a fantastic flow. Even the tracks that venture slightly outside the established sound, such as You’ve Seen the Butcher‘s sludgy, bluesy riffing over a swinging, 6/8 beat, share the same positive melodicism and overwhelming metallic crunch. Perhaps the defining moment of Diamond Eyes is Risk, a heartbreaking yet strangely hopeful song about undying devotion. Lines like “I’ll find a way, I’m confused, but I think I can try, I will save your life” are sung with such intense meaning and are downright hair raising. It’s tremendously moving, serenely beautiful but endlessly rousing, haunting but uplifting, and all at once. Now that’s what Deftones’ music is all about!
It’s incredibly fulfilling to see all of a band’s incredible potential realized, particularly one I’ve been so fond of for so long. They’ve finally consolidated all the great ideas they’ve had over the past decade, at no sacrifice to their core sound, while continually (and puzzlingly) coming up with new ways to blend crushing guitar licks, gentle electronic atmospherics, and powerful, dynamic vocals. This is the metal album to beat for 2010, and I can say with complete confidence that it’s not going to happen.